Valuing Team Conflict

“If we agree on everything, then one of us is unnecessary.” Conflict has gotten a bad reputation. It can make us feel threatened and uncomfortable. It can shut down communication and even cripple our ability to think. But some conflicts – not all – if they are handled constructively, can give tremendous opportunities for teams to examine their assumptions, see broader perspectives and generate creative solutions. In fact, true team collaboration may not be possible without some form of conflict. A few years ago, I got a call from an executive who was looking for a team building solution to get his leadership team to contribute more ideas during meetings. “I’d like to know what’s on their minds,” he said. “We have these weekly meetings and I feel like I’m the only one with any ideas on how to deal with the issues. How can ten smart people have so little to contribute?” So, we set up a full day team building program to help the team experience some successful collaboration, and to have them openly examine their own processes. We managed to get through an energizing icebreaker with lots of laughter and some good ideas surfacing, but things took a bad turn shortly into the first real team challenge. Just as the team arrived at the crux of the problem, a booming voice yelled, “Stop!” All eyes turned to the executive who proceeded to bark instructions to everyone in the group until the problem was more or less solved. Now, periodically he stopped to ask if everyone agreed with “the plan” and, of course, everyone nodded vigorously each...